Shift by Jennifer Bradbury

Two teenage boys agree to undergo their own particular rite of passage into adulthood by biking from West Virginia to the west coast. Little do they know this isn’t just a quest for manhood, it’s a journey of self-discovery. Surprise! Oh wait…we could have guessed that they second they said they wanted to bike across the country… Shift is an appealing novel with an interesting past-mixed-with-present narrative style and a mysterious streak. Here’s the problem: it’s too touchy-feely to be compelling. The element that keeps you reading is the mystery, but the main mystery is given away within the first half of the book, and then the reading gets obligatory. I think the author probably wanted to emphasize the element of self-discovery. But I’m sorry, self-discovery just doesn’t keep me reading. There’s gotta be something else mixed in: action, romance, mystery... Perhaps I’m too demanding – after all, not every book can be tense and action-packed. Still, couldn’t we have made a little more effort to keep that mystery going? On the other hand, this book is fresh and original, has excellent character development, and unfolds itself very artfully. I would recommend it to males and females of all ages (which is something I really can’t say for many of these Beehive nominees), and perhaps you’ll find you disagree with me? In any case, at the very least, the book made me want my own epic adventure – probably not involving two months of bike-riding in my case.

Schooled by Gordon Korman

Remember that post-modern theory about no original ideas? Well here’s another Beehive nominee that fits the bill. If Jerry Spinelli had written a Starboy to go with his Stargirl, I imagine it would be something like Schooled. A hippie commune-raised teen is thrown into public school without a clue about anything modern, technological, or pop-culture related. His social skills are negative zero since he’s spent his whole life on the farm where he only knew one person. Then, we basically follow the Stargirl Pattern: everyone hates him because he’s different, they ridicule and persecute, he doesn’t respond how they expect, and he ends up as the most popular kid in the school. Everyone decides that releasing their inner hippie could help make the world a better place after all. This is a charming tale of acceptance and popularity, told from many points of view including a social worker, the hippie-teen extraordinaire, most popular boy in the middle school, popular middle school girl, middle school loser/geek, etc. The major problem with the story: we’ve seen it before. This doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading – goodness knows the teenage world can use all the messages about acceptance it can get. It does mean that it’s just not quite up to par for the Beehive Award.

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

If you ever take a contemporary literary theory class (just for the heck of it), one of the theories you run across in the post-modernist train of thought is the “fact” that there are no original ideas. I’ve noticed that quite a few of the Beehive nominees this year play right into this theory. Take Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature for instance. This book is basically a slightly candy-coated version of the movie Saved with Mandy Moore and Macaulay Culkin. Not being a huge fan of the over-the-top parody of Radical Christianity that Saved supplies, I liked this book much better, but the basic idea is the same. A teenage girl finds herself a sudden outcast among her group of radically Christian friends because she feels deeply in her heart that their brand of Christianity is leading them to persecute the gentiles in an un-Christlike manner. Thus, she wrestles with “worldly” concepts that she has always viewed as wrong (until her recent inner revelation that leads her contrary to her previous radical Christian beliefs) such as wizardry in Lord of the Rings, Science vs. Religion, and homosexuality. Her quirky new friends, crazy biology teacher, and former radical friends provide a pretty entertaining back-drop for an angsty search to find a new-and-improved brand of Christian beliefs. The book has its moments, and could probably do a lot of good in making teenagers think about how their convictions, beliefs, and actions affect other people. However, it isn’t always compelling, isn’t particularly exciting, and has too many slower moments to make it a Beehive Award winner. Bottom line: worth reading, but I’m not rushing to the book store to buy it, and I don’t anticipate reading it again.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Post by Laura--
Now, I love Shannon Hale, and I didn’t dislike this book…BUT, I have to say it’s just not up to snuff compared to some of her other work. Sure, it’s different, exciting, at times even a little tense, however it’s also predictable, slow-moving, and a little bit hokey. There, I said it, “hokey.” I remember hearing Hale talk about the research she did to be inspired by authentic Mongolian legend and tradition when I went to a book signing just after the premiere of Book of a Thousand Days. So, I’m sure that I’m undervaluing the cultural value of the story, but still – werewolves? Really? That’s what it came down to? Lest I ruin it for the rest of you, I won’t delve any further into detailed hokiness, but suffice it to say I was expecting more than I got from the story. Nevertheless, it’s not a bad read, and the Mongolian tradition along with the journal-entry-style narrative makes it a unique novel. It’s worth a read, otherwise it wouldn’t have made the Beehive nomination, but don’t hold it to the same standard as the rest of Hale’s work.

Smattering of News

I would be a total book-blogging slacker if I didn't mention that the ALA awards (Newbery, Caldecott, Printz) were announced the other day.  I figure many of you have already heard, but just in case you haven't...

Newbery went to: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Caldecott: The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Printz: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

None of these have been reviewed here on Everead yet (drat!), but when they are we'll let you know!

Full list of winners and honors.


One other little piece of news:  March 16th, 2010, will see the release of Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1.  The first book will be published in two volumes, and will be a "black-and-white graphic novel with color interspersed throughout."

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Gossip Girl meets Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and surprisingly, we have some pretty entertaining results. Told from “the beast’s” point of view, a familiar story has quirky contemporary twists, plenty of parental angst, and some happy feel-good moments peppered in. Fairly predictable (but hey, it is a re-telling of a well-known fairy tale), and a bit of a stretch fitting in the magical elements, but overall, very enjoyable. I read the book almost entirely in one sitting, and it kept me interested and compelled to read on. I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale re-telling, but I would be surprised if it won the Beehive Award. Here’s why: although the protagonist is male, I have a hard time picturing the young adult male audience really getting into this book. I think part of the reason I enjoyed it so much is that it satisfied my inner Disney Princess. This is not to say that males can’t enjoy a good fairy tale as much as anyone (or that males can’t have an inner Disney Princess too…), but in my heart of hearts I have to say that this was a satisfyingly girly book, despite all efforts to make it otherwise. Sorry Alex Finn, excellent writing, but not quite there yet!

A "welcome back" interview!

Now, I, Alysa knew the answers to these questions already.  But I asked them of Laura anyway, so that we could have a little re-introduction to her.  Welcome back, Laura!

Alysa: How did you get to be a part of this blog?

Laura: Well, going on three years ago, a friend of mine who was an avid blogger confessed to me that she was thinking about separating her "book blogging" from her personal blogging by starting a book review blog.  Being a voracious reader myself, I enthusiastically encouraged my friend to start the book blog, especially since she was shortly going to move away, and I would sorely miss our book chats.  When she asked me if I would join her in her book-blogging ventures so there would be two authors and more books reviewed on the blog, I was happy to join the fun.  Unfortunately, I haven't been a very consistent book-blogging partner, but I've been part of Everead since it was born.

Alysa:. Where have you been for the last while?

Laura: For the last year or so, I've taken a rather extended leave of absence from Everead, as I've been wildly busy with several life events: the last (and very strenuous) year of my Secondary English Teaching degree, my year-long courtship and my wedding that came at the end of that, moving (a few times), working (a lot), and other such joys.  Honestly, I look back at the last year and a half and realize that I've probably read less than a hundred books in that whole time (if you don't count books I read for school).  A travesty, I know.  Soon to be remedied.

Alysa:  What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Laura: You know, I can honestly say that I'm not a huge ice cream person.  I don't mind ice cream, and every once in a while the mood strikes, but really I can do without ice cream.  I know this is quite shocking to many of you, but it's true.  If I were to pick a favorite flavor, it would be one of those ones with lots of fudge swirls and peanut butter cups and caramel and chocolate-covered nuts and brownie bites and cookie dough and candy bits, etc., and then naturally there would be plenty of hot fudge on top.  The end.

Back with a "Beehive" Bang!

Greetings Evereaders!

You may or may not remember me from the early days of this blog, but I'm the third blogger on the Everead team: Laura.

Having taken an extended leave of absence from Everead, I'm making my way back into the book-blogging world with my own special "Bang". In the next few weeks I will be reviewing each of the twelve nominees for the Children's Literature Association of Utah's (CLAU) 2010 Beehive Book Award.

CLAU sponsors a Beehive Book Award for each of the following five categories:
Children's Picture Books
Children's Fiction Books
Children's Informational Books
Young Adult Books
Children's Poetry Books

As Young Adult fiction is my particular forte, I'll be reviewing the twelve nominees in that category.

So get ready for some good reads and some fresh reviews from a voice you haven't heard in a while!

P.S. - Clarification:
Beehive Book Award Nominees are not exclusively written by Utah authors, nor do they have to be written within the last year to win the award,

Alysa's 2009 stats

I, Alysa, reviewed 64 books on Everead in 2009.  There are only 52 weeks in year. Just so's you know.  How many books did I read?  Ha! I have no idea.  But I only reviewed 4 cybils books in 2009.  And I read 54.  So. I think it's safe to say that I read over a hundred books this last year.  That's pretty cool, yeah?

A Little Princess

A Little Princess
Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1905.

What a lovely little book!  I decided to reread it over Christmas break after hearing the news.  And I agree wholeheartedly with what was said over at bookshelves of doom:  I'm not much for sequels to classics, but Hilary McKay can do whatever she wants.

Anyway, I hadn't read A Little Princess since I was a child.  My mother and I read it together, if I recall correctly.  I remember loving it then.  I remember seeing the movie.  I remember thinking "Wow, they changed a LOT."  So, when I came back to the book, years later, I had all these movie memories.  The book surprised and delighted me all over again.

Sarah is a little British girl who lives in India with her father.  At the beginning of the novel, she is sent off to school.  She is so brave!  So kind!  So with-it.  Despite teasing peers and her slightly odd looks, she does her best to act like a princess.  When she becomes suddenly penniless, the headmistress employs her as a maid.  She struggles with her identity, the physical labor involved, and just with growing up.  The plot is complimented by beautiful description and detail.

I've been thoroughly enjoying old fashioned books lately: The Penderwicks, The Willoughbys, The Keeper of the Bees, etc.  This won't be the last one I pick up.  Also it made me want to learn French.

A Resurrection of Magic #1

I just finished reading Skin Hunger, because its sequel, Sacred Scars, is on the Cybils shortlist for YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Oh yeah, my category got switched, because one of the YA panelists had a conflict of interest, so jumped to the middle-grade panel. So I jumped to YA! Which I'm excited about. It was actually my first choice. I'm not supposed to review the actual shortlisted books, but I don't see the harm in reviewing a prequel.

The premise and writing in Skin Hunger make me think not of your average YA fantasy novel but of a kind of Lord of the Flies meets The Chocolate War. Dark story, impossible love, evil people, dying children pitted against one another, non-happy cliffhanger ending, etc. Definitely more the kind of book your English teacher would assign you to read in high school---not necessarily the kind of book you'd grab for "fun." There wasn't anything you could call fun about this book. But it was intriguiging, fascinating, and deep. The focus is on the characters themselves and their flaws more than on the magic of the fantasy world the author's created. The world and its laws definitely take a backseat to the characters. I might even say they're in the trunk. I'll definitely be interested to see where the second book will take the story. I'm about to go dig in right now. For language and thematic reasons, I'd recommend this for older teens.

Honorable Mention

So if you talk to any panelist in Cybils first round judging, they will be able to tell you their favorite nominated book that just didn't make the shortlist.  Mine was Cat Burglar Black by Richard Sala.

Such atmosphere!  I absolutely adored the illustrations.  They really evoked an era, if you know what I mean.  It was, like, old school.  The style (and the story somewhat) reminded me of classic mysteries like Nancy Drew and Scooby Doo (I don't actually like Scooby Doo very much.  So if you don't, don't be put off by my saying that).  I mean, bright colors, unique characters, old cars, obvious villains. 

K has come to live at a boarding school with her aunt.  But when she arrives, her aunt is ill and bandaged so heavily that she is unrecognizable.  Was K meant to come to the school at all?  Will she be had, or meet her destiny?  And what of the vast fortune that is somewhere on campus?

I loved to hate the villain(s) of the book.  They were easy to pick out and the perfect mix of ridiculous and actually kinda scary (I don't like the really creepy stuff).

I loved to love the heroine, K.  She was unique, but it was easy to relate to her.  She didn't make the wacky choices that she might have, if someone else had written this book.  She was solid.

Both genders could dig this book, if you ask me.  There's no swooning or romance that might shut out the guys, and the female lead is quite the unassuming representative of girl power.  By that I mean that she's so awesome -- but it's just because she's doing her thang.  Not because she's on a crusade.

The book had a great ending too.  I won't say much -- but it was complete and yet left you wanting more.  I can't wait for a sequel.   

P.S. Ooh, a great page sample from Here Lies Richard Sala, see what I mean?

Cybils Shortlists announced!

The Cybils (Children's and Young Adult Blogger's Literary Awards) have announced the 5-7 titles in each category that represent the best of 2009.  The books are judged on kid appeal and literary merit -- there's sure to be a book on one of the lists that you'll like. 

Cybils shortlists here!  Click on the category you want to see the titles.
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